Accessibility links

Breaking News

Iraq: Militants Behead American, Threaten To Kill Two More Hostages

A militant group in Iraq led by Al-Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi beheaded an American civil engineer yesterday. The group is threatening to kill another American and British hostage if the United States does not release all Iraqi women prisoners today. The decapitation came after militants killed three Iraqi Kurdish fighters. At least five other Westerners are being held hostage in Iraq, including two female Italian aid workers and two French reporters. So far more than 130 foreigners have been kidnapped. While many have been released, several others have been executed.

Prague, 21 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- "My name is...Eugene Armstrong, 'Jack' Armstrong, and my job consists of installing and furnishing camps at Taji base."

Posted on the Internet, those were perhaps the last words to the world of American hostage Eugene Armstrong.

Yesterday, the mostly Sunni militant group Tawhid and Jihad (Unification and Holy War) put a grisly video on the Internet showing the civil engineer's beheading.

The group, led by al-Zarqawi, is threatening to kill two more Western civilian hostages. American Jack Hensley and Briton Kenneth Bigley were abducted, along with Armstrong, on 16 September from their residence in Baghdad.

The militant group is demanding that the United States free all Iraqi women prisoners from Abu Ghurayb and Umm Qasr prisons within 24 hours.

But the U.S. military says it has no women in these prisons. It says it is holding, in different locations, only two women prisoners, including Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha, a scientist involved in making biological weapons for the former regime of Saddam Hussein.
Analysts say the recent killings of Sunni scholars could help fuel sectarian violence in Iraq, which is believed to be at risk of civil war.

Tawhid and Jihad has already claimed responsibility for killing at least six hostages, including American civilian Nicholas Berg, who was also beheaded. The group says it is behind many bombings and gun attacks.

The latest decapitation comes as violence has already claimed more than 300 lives in Iraq in September. Violence persists in Sunni areas west of Baghdad and also in the Shi'ite districts of the capital.

Meanwhile, U.S. Marines in Al-Najaf today arrested two close aides of radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The motives for the arrests remain unclear.

Assad Swari, a spokesman for al-Sadr in in Baghdad's Al-Kharkh district, says the cleric's followers have nothing to do with the kidnappings and beheadings. Swari told RFE/RL that al-Sadr strongly condemns the slaying of innocent civilians: "Muqtada says that we will never accept under any circumstances whatsoever hostage-taking operations. We reject it as a whole. And if we reject all of this, do you expect us to accept beheadings and mutilation of hostages?"

In another development, two members of the influential Association of Muslim Scholars -- Sheikh Mohammad Jadoa al-Janabi and Sheikh Hazem al-Zeidi -- were killed during the past week in a mostly Shi'a district of Baghdad. The organization, a powerful Sunni Muslim group, has served as a mediator to hostage disputes.

Analysts say the killings could help fuel sectarian violence in Iraq, which is believed to be at risk of civil war.

But Swari insisted that al-Sadr had absolutely nothing to do with the killing of the Sunni scholars: "There was a statement issued by Muqtada al-Sadr's office condemning this act, and we have nothing to do with this criminal atrocity [killing Sunni clerics]."

Swari blamed the killing on "mysterious forces," such as foreign intelligence services and extremists. He said both groups want to see a civil war in Iraq.

But al-Sadr's spokesman said the country's majority Shi'a population would never fight with what he calls their Sunni brothers.

(RFE/RL Baghdad correspondent Sami Alkhoja contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.